At this point, it's a matter of wait and see — wait to see what evidence there is to explain the sudden death of Memphian Jeff Klitzner, the author of a memoir published in August and called Call Me Tennessee.
Klitzner had local booksignings planned for August 20th and 21st. He and his book were featured in the Flyer's book column headlined "At Peace?" in the issue that hit stands on August 17th. But on the morning of Thursday, August 18th, Klitzner's body was found in his bed in his house by his roommate and longtime friend Memphis police officer Sean Bolton — the circumstances, again, a matter of wait and see. Blood samples in a few weeks' time could determine once and for all the cause of Klitzner's death.
A deliberate death?
That's a possibility said Klitzner's friend and publisher Stephen Clements, who delivered a eulogy at Klitzner's burial. But according to Clements, Klitzner had seemed fine in the days leading up to publication of his memoir.
"Jeff was busy getting the book into stores, setting up signings," Clements said by phone the day after Klitzner's funeral at Anshei Sphard Cemetery in Memphis. "I'd spoken to him several times the day before he died. He was making plans for the future. He was working on bringing episodes from Call Me Tennessee to the stage, with help from his friend David Saks at WUMR, the University of Memphis radio station.
"I was trained in and taught suicide prevention for my unit when I served in Iraq," Clements added. "I know what to look for. But Jeff was also physically in rough shape. I'd like to think I slowed down his destructive behavior, just a hair. There's a distinct possibility, though, that his body simply gave out."
Memphian John Gavin, who's known Klitzner since serving as his "big brother" in the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program, agreed to that possibility too.
Gavin has kept in touch with Klitzner over the years by phone or by email — and especially in the weeks leading up to the publication of Klitzner's book. He'd had dinner with him in early July. Gavin said that Klitzner was excited about his book's appearance: "He was looking forward to things going better. A little nervous maybe. A little afraid of success and the responsibility that comes with it."
But according to Gavin, "Maybe I had a naive, narrow view into Jeff's life. Maybe I was in denial. I didn't realize until a few years ago how heavily he drank. I suspect he didn't take the best care of himself. He would drink coffee all day. He always told me only what he wanted me to know. He shielded people that he loved.
"Jeff had had a series of surgeries in the past, including gastric bypass. I remember him saying he had to take special vitamins. I thought, knowing Jeffrey, he's not going to hold to the regimen prescribed. And even if he'd taken better care of himself, there could have been medical complications.
"But I do know that he was deeply religious. He did love his family. He didn't necessarily show that to others. Maybe if we'd all known more, we could have helped him more."
"I know I've gone off on different paths in my life."
Those are the words Jeff Klitzner said to me in an interview a week before he died. And he added:
"I'm hoping now to keep everything on the straight and narrow. I'm even trying to get involved in life-coaching. It's hard, though, to find the people who need the help who are also looking for help."
Then Klitzner said something on a subject he covers in Call Me Tennessee: religious belief — how to come to terms with it, how to put it into practice.
"I've always had drama with belief — inner turmoil. I practice religion, but I'm not fully religious like I could be or have been at one point or another in my life. I've tried, though, to arrive at some peace within my own heart — a peace that I'm comfortable with."
I'd thought while listening to him that Klitzner's words were more carefully chosen than I thought they'd be — his manner on the phone milder than the nonstop and often self-destructive behavior described in his memoir, his excitable self tempered, perhaps, by his new life as a published writer with future plans.
What's more to say? These few words: May Jeff Klitzner now be "at peace," no question mark.